Our Trip to New York City- Sightseeing & Tourist Highlights from Total NYC Novices

Last week, we crossed off a trip on Dave’s bucket list. We headed up north to New York City, played the role of shameless tourists, and ran around Manhattan seeing as much as we could handle over the course of four days. While I’ve been twice before, I won’t even pretend to be a source of genuine secret gems and NYC recommendations. I played “tourist” once before 11 years ago when my mom took me post-college graduation, and had a quick two-day stint for the BHG Stylemaker event in Brooklyn this past fall. Since this was Dave’s first time, we decided to take in the city like two eager ramblers on a mission. I actually had no intent of sharing our trip in detail – like I said, there are other people far more qualified and experienced to lend their expertise on true hidden treasures in the city or to share how the “locals” do it. But you guys, we loved our trip. And, when I was scrolling through the over 300 photos I snapped on my iPhone, I decided that even if our adventure isn’t going to land us in an upcoming issue of a popular travel magazine, I wanted to share it with you all.  If you have never been to NYC or are considering a trip, these are exactly the things I would do again. If you want a total tourist guide and highlights from two NYC novice-southern suburbanites, this is for you.

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What to see and do in NYC- a Beginner's Guide to the city and sightseeing

Day 1 in NYC

We woke up at 2:00 a.m. 3:00 a.m. (an hour late- whoops!) and took the first flight from Atlanta to LaGuardia. We dropped our bags at our hotel near Grand Central Station…

NYC Couple

and headed for an early lunch and shakes at Shake Shack. What says “vacation” like ice cream and grease at 10:30 a.m.?!

Shake Shack meal in New York City

After we fueled up, we headed to the north part of Manhattan. I’m not usually fond of being approached on the street but like I said, we were total tourists and could be spotted from a mile away. I was actually grateful for the entrepreneurial pedicab driver that approached us; while we were polite and planning the excuse of why we weren’t interested, he totally sold us on a tour through Central Park. If you have never been, Central Park is huge and I didn’t even get to scratch the surface last time. If you want to really go through the entire thing, I would do this again, 100%. Our driver was a perfect guide, sharing both history and memorable film moments as we rode through the park. He also stopped four to five times to let us jump out and explore.

NYC Buildings from Central Park

We stopped at the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, saw boat races at Conservatory Water, and watched Loeb Boathouse paddle boats from Cherry Hill.

Central Park views in NYC with lake and paddle boats

We listened to stories from Pine Bank Arch…

Central Park Bridge where Elf snowball fight was filmed

and strolled along the mall.

Central Park famous filming location

We walked  up to the Strawberry Fields Imagine mosaic and pointed out celebrity apartment buildings on the Upper West Side.

Imagine Memorial of John Lennon in NYC Central Park

We admired the Plaza Hotel in all its regal glory…

Plaza Hotel with Blue Hydrangeas

Plaza Hotel outside lamp and hydrangeas

and I imagined what it would be like if I was Melanie from Sweet Home Alabama as we passed Tiffany & Co. on 5th Avenue. We dipped inside Trump Tower and and cited all the designer flagship stores lining the street.

Tiffany and Co on 5th Avenue in New York City

We walked and walked and walked some more and got lost in Grand Central station before exploring our hotel’s neighborhood and heading to Duane Reade to stock up on room essentials for the duration of our trip. We also discovered that despite the typical NYC prices, .99 pizza is “a thing” and devoured our dinner from bed.

DAY 2 in NYC

We made best friends with one of the 29384903 Starbucks in the city each morning as our official daily start. We became pros at riding the subway and took our inaugural trip down to Rockefeller Center.

Rockefeller Center Plaza with Flags

We took in the best views of the city from Top of the Rock (which I prefer over the Empire State Building from my first trip).

NYC view of the city and Empire State Building from Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock view of NYC

We meandered around the buildings, spotting the big names like Radio City Music Hall and NBC Studios.

NBC Studios and Radio City Music Hall in NYC

Radio City Music Hall in New York City

Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon at NBC Studios

But this is where the highlight of our trip begins. I’ll take a break from the Cliff Notes because this once in a lifetime experience deserves the storytelling. This is me, in an Uber, on our way to see Hamilton on Broadway.

Kate Spade Tortoise Shell Sunglasses

Kate Spade Sunglasses (HUGE discount!) | Knit Blazer  | Lipstick (shade: Rebel)Tassel Earrings | Choker Necklace

I had a sweet couple reach out a few months ago when I announced we would be heading to NYC in the spring – they happened to be Broadway performers. Not only were they gracious enough to treat us to tickets to the show…

Hamilton on Broadway in NYC

Hamilton NYC Playbill

(we were 10 rows back, center, in the orchestra)…

Hamilton set on Broadway

but hosted us backstage after the performance.

Richard Rodgers Theater on Broadway in NYC

If you’ve seen Hamilton on Broadway, you may recognize Donald Webber (our talented host) – he plays a few roles, including Hamilton, and on our night portrayed Lafayette/Jefferson. The entire cast is fantastic but he was truly incredible. He made us feel so special and gave us a night we’ll never forget.

Back Stage at Hamilton on Broadway

I am so grateful for having been gifted this experience; Donald was kind enough to introduce us to some of the cast – here is “our” Hamilton from that Sunday.

Backstage at Hamilton on Broadway in New York City

As much as I wanted to ask, I basically just stumbled around the set with a stupid grin on my face. Rebecca and Donald, we can’t wait to come back and see you – thank you for everything.

Backstage at Hamilton after the show

We jetted through Times Square, just enough to take in the crazy impressive displays…

Times Square views in spring 2018

Times Square couple

and stopped for Italian, still on a high from our surreal afternoon.

DAY 3 in NYC

We devoted Day 3 to walking more than we’ve ever walked in our lives. We started in Washington Square Park, noted the NYU buildings…

washington square park in spring with fountain

and made our way through Greenwich Village to locate the Friends apartment.

Friends apartment in New York City Greenwich Village - Where Monica and Rachel lived

We walked all the villages – Greenwich, West, and East – and stopped for Joe’s somewhere in between for one of the best slices I’ve ever had.

City views in the village in NYC

We window shopped through SoHo and broswed booths at a co-op. We politely declined handbags and watches (haha) through China Town

Walking through China Town in NYC

China Town Fish Market in NYC

and followed the scents through Little Italy.

Apartments in Little Italy in NYC

We headed to Brooklyn for afternoon libations and to take in views of the city from Dumbo.

Cocktails at One Hotel Brooklyn Bridge

And after we walked along the waterfront, we trekked back across the bridge, back into Manhattan, only stopping to debate artwork along the way.

Under the Brooklyn Bridge

Walking across the brooklyn bridge- nyc guide

Brooklyn Bridge Views of New York City

Day 4 in NYC

We experienced the Freedom Tower and reflected on 9/11. We toured the museum for hours…

New NYC Freedom Tower World Trade Center

and paid our respects to the two towers and all the lives lost that day. Note: The website suggests two hours for the museum – I suggest at least half a day to really give it the time it deserves.

911 memorial at world trade center site in NYC

We made our way through old, gorgeous government buildings…

New York City City Hall in the Spring

and dipped into a pub for lunch in TriBeca.

NYC City Hall with Park and Foundation

We I cried at the pure magic at the start of The Lion King…

The Lion King Minskoff Theater

and we ordered late night Chinese for packing sustenance (which we told ourselves was “so authentically New York” 😉 ).

Baggage weight of 50

With two 50 lb. bags, we flew home with zero souvenirs (I was shocked, too) and a lot of memories. When we visit a place for the first time, it’s less about reservations at the best restaurants and more about quick discoveries along the way, in the middle of our adventures.  Or, let’s be honest, grabbing a late Chipotle dinner across from the hotel to satisfy the requirement of eating before heading to bed for another day of cruising around as far and as much as you can. (Joe’s pizza ((ok, and Shake Shack)) were the only two places on “the list”).

We already can’t wait to get back; we will for sure, once again, take in multiple shows and concentrate on “going deeper” now that we’ve experienced a huge “skim” of the city. Have a favorite NYC spot? Share in the comment section below.

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NYC Trip Favorites & Essentials

Scroll & Tap to Shop

  • The sneakers that got me through the trip- HERE
  • The flip flops that were comfortable enough to walk for miles- HERE
  • The leggings that I wore far more often than I should have (or would probably admit)- HERE
  • The crossbody that was an easy “sling-over-the-shoulder-and-go”- HERE
  • The dry shampoo that kept my hair washing at a minimum (this is my FAVORITE)- HERE
  • My fav nude lipstick for “day” (in Really Me HERE); and the deep plum I wore for Broadway at night (in Rebel HERE)
  • The sunglasses that have quickly become my favorite shades- HERE

Wanna See Other Travels?

How to travel and see all the New York City high points in four days

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20 Comments

  1. 5.3.18
    Cindy Langhorn said:

    So very nice! I’ve only been once and would love to return.
    I couldn’t get over the beauty of Central Park!
    Thank you!

  2. 5.3.18
    marion said:

    wow girl….that’s a LOT of photos!! LOL…looks like it was an action packed 4 days…I will try not to bore you….but I have a funny story…I was in NY a couple of years ago and stayed at the Millennium Hotel in Time Square. We were catching the elevator heading up to our room at 3:00 am when a couple of guys yelled for us to hold the door for them. Of course, we did. They got on and I asked what floor they said 34 and I thought what a coincidence cause that was the same floor as us….we got chatting and I asked them where they were from they said Canada…I said “wow…us too”…” where in Canada,” I asked and they said Toronto…I said “seriously? us too”…they said well not actually Toronto but just west of the city in Burlington…I was astonished…I said we are from Burlington. I asked them where they lived….turns out they lived a block away from us…..of ALL the people that go through Time Square in a day…we met a couple of guys I could have met at our local grocery store. For such an enormous and super fun city….it truly is a small little world we live in.

    • 5.4.18

      HAHA- yes! And what a story!! Such a small world- love that you had that experience!

  3. 5.3.18
    Linda said:

    Oh geez! I’ve been here all my life and haven’t seen as much as you and Dave have ??‍♀️. I guess because I’m a New Yorker and we take it for granted when it’s in your own backyard, But I do see 1-2 shows a year! Central Park is just amazing. What beautiful pictures, so happy that you had a wonderful trip. Your hair is gorgeous girl. I hope you come back soon!! Thanks so much for sharing!!

    • 5.4.18

      Linda, that makes us feel good haha. But that’s how it goes! There’s a ton where we live I’ve never seen.

  4. 5.3.18
    Katie Chavez said:

    Kelley! Thank you for sharing this! We’re going in July and I literally have almost the same itinerary! 🙂

    • 5.4.18

      Katie, YAY!!! Let me know if you need any other recs!

  5. 5.3.18
    Kathy said:

    Isn’t it fabulous? My husband and I have been twice now and walked all over that beautiful city!
    I have to tell you one sweet thing my husband did. I love that movie You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks . I had a list of many of the filming locations and we went to as many as we could fit in one afternoon. It was heavenly-
    So glad you got to see Hamilton! I would love that!!

    • 5.4.18

      Kathy, that is SO SWEET! And we sound like two peas in a pod- Dave likes actual history; I like recognizing spots from my favorite shows and movies haha

      • 5.6.18
        Kathy said:

        ?

  6. 5.4.18
    Wendy said:

    We’re from Sydney, Australia & will be heading over to the USA to do a road trip of New England; first stop New York City! I loved seeing your photos & recommendations. Thank you for sharing them.

    • 5.5.18

      Oh, how fun! I hope you have a blast!! We loved Maine through Boston last fall, too!

  7. 5.7.18
    Ivette said:

    Hi Kelly! Thanks for sharing with us… you guys are such an adorable couple!
    Your photos are beautiful… so happy you all had such a nice trip. It’s important to relax and enjoy, I know you work hard to keep everything gorgeous, well kept and share with us <3

    • 5.8.18

      Ivette, you are so incredibly sweet; thank you so much!

  8. 5.8.18
    Joss said:

    Kelley,

    Your trip looked like so much fun! Thanks for sharing and providing all the details and photos. Don’t you just love the architecture!? I am planning a short trip with my family and you gave me a lot of great ideas. Your trip sounded perfect for me. My 2 boys have never been before and my oldest is so excited to go. You two look like you had a lot of fun. Thanks again!

  9. 5.9.18
    Kristen said:

    I’m a NYC expert tourist (several times a year) and I think you guys did great! You combined the perfect amount of touristy stuff with legit local activities. I am so jealous you got to see Hamilton, as I still haven’t been able to score tickets. I am sore for DAYS when I get back – ’cause as you well know, we don’t walk anywhere in metro ATL! Some of our best food experiences were walking around the West/East Village and passing by cute neighborhood restaurants (Palma!), checking out the menus, and then returning for dinner.

    I’m sorry NYC wasn’t as green as it normally is this time of year, but hopefully some of the tulips were still blooming?

    Things to consider for your next trip, if you can afford it – fly into Newark and grab a car service into the city. I love the thrill of passing through the Lincoln or Holland tunnels and then…BAM – Manhattan! Newark typically experiences fewer delays and the airport is much nicer should you get stuck. We always take the second flight out, gets us in about 11:30, and we’re in the city for a late lunch. Usually Joe’s or Shake Shack. 🙂

    So looking forward to my trip this fall!

    • 5.10.18

      Kristen, this makes me feel even better about our trip! Good to know about Newark- La Guardia is… I hope you have a fantastic time in a few months; I really wanna get back soon.

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